Eat Your Vegetables I care a lot about the Jewish dietary laws, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of my time as a rabbinical student focusing on them. I am always excited to find a text that promotes abstaining from eating animals. So, I must admit that my initial attraction to this text was that it appeared to be another biblical text that advocates for vegan diet, which for me a vegan and future rabbi is awesome! Veganism is not so much about dietary abstinence as it is about spiritual sustenance; Veganism is a the universal principle of compassionate, nonviolent living, and is central to my Jewish identity. For me, a plant-based diet is a prayer, a petition asking why animals and people suffer greatly. This has led me to a lifestyle that is focused primarily on abstaining from the consumption of animals.On the surface Chapter one of the book of Daniel depicts four young male captives sustaining themselves on vegetables and water and becoming healthier and smarter than the captives that did not follow the same diet plan. With that said, let’s look at Chapter 1 and see what is happening in the text. Chapter 1Chapter one introduces us to the historical time period and to the protagonist, Daniel. The time period is during the the siege of the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. According to the text this occured in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Even though the kingdom of Judah has fallen and the period of exile has begun for the Jews, the text shows us that God is in complete control. In verse one God allows Jerusalem to fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In verse two Nebuchadnezzar raids the Temple and takes some of the vessels from the Temple to the land of Shinar to the house of his God. He treats the vessels like some kind of trophy for his God. In verses 3-4, Nebuchadnezzar instructs his chief officer to bring him young Israelites of royal blood, good looking men without defect so that they can serve in the King’s palace. These boys will be educated in the literature and the language of the Chaldeans and assimilated into Babylonian culture. In verse five, the King allotted daily rations of royal food and wine for the young men, which we can assume that this food was of high quality and probably food that others did not have access to. Lastly, and the boys are to be educated for three years and at the end of their education they will serve the king. In verse six we are introduced to the protagonist Daniel, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, they are among the young men chosen. In verses 8-10 we learn that Daniel decides not to defile himself with the royal food or wine and his companions Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah follow Daniel’s lead. The chief officer is fearful of his own life because if the King finds out that the young men are not taking the ration he fears the King will notice that the boys do not look as healthy as the other boys. In verse twelve Daniel suggests a trial period of ten days where they only eat vegetables and water and none of the other food. And after ten days compare them to the other young men. After the trial period, the four emerge healthier and looked better than their counterparts. The chief officer let the boys continue on their diet. When their training was complete, in verses 17-20, Daniel and his companions were healthier, smarter, wiser than all the men in the King’s service. What is happening here:Even though we are in a period where the Jews are exiled, not living in the land Judah and living under a foreign king, God is in complete control. I say this because of the use of the Hebrew verb natan (gave). This verb is used in several verses to demonstrate that God is in control. In verse two it is God who natan -gave the defeat of King Jehoiakim into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. In verse nine God natan- allowed the chief to be kind towards Daniel. In verse 17 God natan -made all four of these young men intelligent and proficient in all writings and wisdom. My initial attraction to this text was the diet of Daniel and his friends. Daniel and his friends are surviving on a plant-based vegan diet, they are eating only vegetables and water. I was excited to see a biblical text where the characters emerge better than their meat eating counterparts, but there is a lot more going on in this text other than being a vegan makes you good looking, healthier and smarter. This text is actually about loyalty to God. Loyalty to GodThe king provided rations to Daniel and his friends and one can assume that these rations were the best of the king’s food. But in verse eight Daniel decided in his heart that he was not going to defile himself by eating the King’s non-kosher food. He instead ask for only vegetables and water, the diet prescribed for us in Genesis Chapter 1:29. The laws of Kashrut fall into the category of laws that exist solely because God told us to do it. These laws do not exist for our health or to make us look better or smarter. The kosher laws are about being loyal to God, because God wants us to eat a certain way. Following this logic Daniel abstains from eating non-kosher meat and chooses to eat only vegetables and water. By doing this Daniel is choosing to be faithful to God, resisting the King’s royal food, and resisting being loyal to a foreign king and a foreign God. For Daniel a diet of vegetables was a way to stay faithful to God even while exiled in Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar offers to spoil Daniel and his friends with rich food, but the young men were loyal to God and for their actions God rewards Daniel and his friends with good looks, health and wisdom. In this story God wins over Nebuchadnezzar.How is this Text Relevant to Today?We live in a world where some people have privileges that others do not. Privileges that are not earned but that people are born into. Sadly, many do not recognize their own privilege which makes it harder for them to understand the struggle of the other. Once people recognize their privilege and are willing to give some of it up they can now be in solidarity with others who may be struggling. Daniel and his friends are the slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar, and they were born into privilege. In verse three it says, “the King said to his chief officer to bring some Israelites of royal descent and of the nobility.” Then verse four says that these young men were to be “without blemish,” the same condition is required of the priest who serve God. C.L Seow points out in his book Daniel, that Nebuchadnezzar expects that the youth brought to serve him should be the same quality as the ones that serve the Israelite God (Seow, 23). These privileged boys are then to be educated in the language, literature and culture of the Chaldeans. Daniel and his friends are also given food fit for the King, but they turn it down. By turning the down the food they are giving up some of their privilege. By giving up some of their privilege this allows Daniel and his friends to be in solidarity with others who are in exile and don’t have access to all the niceties that Daniel and his friends have. Daniel is also coping in the face of his captivity and trying to hold on to his identity. I’m sure he feels a lack of agency and is trying to deal with his circumstances by controlling the one thing he can control, which is what he eats. By not eating the King’s food he is staying in touch with who he is, an Israelite. One Final Thought….Eat Your VegetablesEven though this text is not stating outright that a vegan diet is better for your health there is value in an argument for health. We know today that a diet which contains too much animal flesh is not good for us and is linked to a ton of health problems. By following the dietary laws in the Bible, Jews would be eating less meat, which is better for our health and the environment. Today with kosher slaughterhouses, big agribusiness and factory farming, we can eat meat whenever we want. Meat is cheap and easily accessible. We have moved away from the original intention of the Bible, which I believe was for us to limit our consumption of animals. If we followed these laws and ate mostly plants we would eat less meat, and perhaps like Daniel and his friends we would be healthier, good looking, wiser and closer to God.